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Singapore Writers Festival 2020: Can the digital space bring us greater Intimacy?

With the theme 'Intimacy', SWF 2020 explores what it means to be intimate in a time where we have to be apart.

One would be inclined to think that the social-distancing measures of a pandemic stricken world would mean that intimacy as we know it would be difficult to achieve.  Forced to be physically apart, we can only rely on the digital realm to satiate our need for human interaction.  It has forced us to realign the ways in which we communicate, interact and deliver emotion.  The question is, in what ways have things changed?  Have humans truly been deprived of intimacy?  Or has this digital experiment allowed us to discover new ways to be more intimate than we have ever been before?

Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) 2020 has endeavoured to answer these questions.  Brilliantly themed, ‘Intimacy’ allows for a wide range of discussion on a relevant concern in our lives.  As Festival Director, Pooja Nansi, commented, “Through the festival’s programming and ground-up initiatives, we hope to spark conversations at home and abroad about what intimacy means to us in this new normal. We invite everyone to witness the power of literature in capturing this shared human need.”

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Features of this year’s SWF include both online and offline interactive events and games. The Literary Pioneer series will feature three seminal Tamil Writers in a digital interactive event in both English and Tamil.  A Call Away and Play This Story:  The Book of Red Shadows are both offline interactive games that would be sure to keep one on their toes.

Workshops and Panels in Youth Fringe and SWF Playground will allow children and young creatives to express their creative energies, ensuring the next generation of writers have a space to nurture their imaginations and literary knowledge as well.

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A spotlight will be held on voices around the region with panels and discussions by South East Asian Writers and intercultural/ inter-lingual exchanges, in programs such as Intimate Pairings: Questions Over Dinner, Bait-bait Puisi Penghubung Jiwa (Connecting Souls Through Poetry), and From Singapore to Hong Kong.

Most excitingly this year’s SWF has been able to invite more internationally renowned authors than before.  Some of these household names include Cassandra Clare, Zadie Smith, Tracy K Smith, Sharon Olds, Liu Cixin and Art Spiegelman.

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There are certainly limitations to a non-physical event, as Nansi said on a Zoom press release, “a digital festival is never going to be able to replicate the experiences of a physical festival… So much of what we’ve grown to love about festivals is being on festival grounds, and that kind of buzz, and bumping into each other and saying ‘hi’ and eating the tacos from the truck.”  Despite this, Nansi and her team still wanted to “create an experience where festival goers still feel like they are a part of a community.”

In fact, these limitations have seemed to push creativity and ways of interaction to the next level for SWF this year.  While some intimacies, such as eating from a taco truck, are not possible, others are created, like being able to directly interact with one’s favourite international authors.  It will be exciting to see how SWF 2020 will demonstrate how many more there can be.